'You're Not Alone' review or 'I think I want a close shave.'
‘You’re Not Alone’, Kim Noble
Soho Theatre, 5th February 2015
(Spoilers aplenty below)
(Spoilers aplenty below)
Comics love to get naked. And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more naked show, in every bleeding sense of the word, than Kim Noble’s ‘You’re Not Alone’. I would say that Noble’s show is equivalent to a man stripping naked and taping his penis to his backside but, you know, Noble actually does that. There’s very little Noble doesn’t do, very few ways he neglects to reveal himself, expose himself and undo himself, in this upsetting but powerful show about the solitariness of human existence.
Its sounds heavy, doesn’t it? Some of it really is, but lots of it is very, very funny too. The backdrop to this show is the death of Kim Noble’s father, who we meet through a series a recorded meetings between Noble and his dad. We see Noble’s thin and deeply expressive dad first at home, then at a care home and ultimately during his final days in hospital. He gets thinner and thinner with every encounter, his eyes a little dimmer, and it all feels peculiarly intimate and sad. Noble’s show could have been manipulative and maudlin but there is something about the openness of these exchanges, as well as the biting and brutal and roaming comedy in between these segments, that stops things from becoming too sentimental. Instead, it just feels very honest, generous and deeply vulnerable.
Before the show begins, Noble hangs around in the foyer and the bar, edging into our personal space and silently imploring us to speak to him. Noble creates an unsettling impression of a sad man in need of human contact, but unsure how to go about it. At the time one thinks little of it, but Noble's sad skulking about the theatre is really the opening prologue to his show; a show about how hard it is to make real connections, to share a bit of life with another human being, even when surrounded by a swarming mass of folks, be that in a bar, at home, in the supermarket or among the millions of faceless figures swarming about on the internet.
Gradually, Noble builds up the most extraordinary tapestry of failed connections and un-reciprocated relationships. A lot of this is generated through online dating, of which we are shown ample recordings. During these online encounters, Noble poses as a woman and lures in series of men, all looking for anything but this lonely man sitting at his computer, who has neither the breasts or the body that these men so openly crave.
It’s perfectly absurd, watching these interactions unfold at total cross-purposes. What is so sad about these online encounters is how much they warp the personalities of everyone involved. The men who Noble talks to are clichés, exaggerated and slightly crappier versions of themselves, desperate for one thing only – boobs and sex. And Noble, well Noble does everything he can to to turn his personality inside out. He shaves off his hair. He squeezes his nipples together and does some nifty photo-shopping, so that they look like woman’s breasts. He straps his penis down with selotape. He strips and comes and sits, man vagina and all, among the audience. All this effort to meet someone else’s desires and, weirdly and sadly, lose oneself in the process.
Perhaps all this sounds a bit earnest – but it’s hard not to over-think this piece, since it is so well crafted and the ideas hum so strongly and persistently just below the surface. Having said that, a lot of the time ‘You’re Not Alone’ is just very silly and very smutty. Noble shags just about everything he can, including a watermelon and a loaf of bread, and shows us the recorded evidence. He plays porn really loudly and holds the speakers up to his ceiling, so that his neighbours think he is having sex. He hands endless home-made awards to the check-out man at Morrisons, just to keep him close. He rips open a pigeon and pulls out its insides, in order to mark its death and remember its life. The show is packed with relationships one-stepped removed, attempted but failed connections which ultimately lead to only more loneliness.
There are some weird interactions going on with the audience, too. Gradually and without us quite clocking it, Noble pulls more and more audience members into his show. One girl spends the whole night with headphones on, creeping across the stage and occasionally plucking people from the crowd. Another guy is lead on to stage by Noble, quietly encouraged to take off most of his clothes and sat down at a dinner table with Noble, whilst Noble talks to the audience. At the end of the show, a bunch of spectators walk onto stage and begin to dance together, sharing the space together for just a moment.
With each honest revelation or shocking sequence, the audience is pulled in only to be spat out again seconds later. We watch a clip of Noble talking with his dad, eyes bleeding with loneliness, and feel so close to Noble, we might as well be lying naked in bed with him. But in the next clip, Noble might gut a pigeon, wax his chest or shit in a Church. He plays with us over and over again, pulling us close and then pushing us away.
By the end, the audience – shocked, sad, sympathetic – seems completely immersed in Noble’s show and state of mind. Yet just as we might be drawing closer still, Noble sneakily leaves the auditorium. On a video projection, we watch Noble leave the theatre and – I shit you not – clip clop away on a pony. The audience is left behind, glued to his projected image. Some stray souls stand on stage, dancing with strangers. The audience starts clapping, applauding an empty stage and praising a man who can no longer hear us.